Los Angeles

Hand Markings on Sewer Wall Led Rescuers to Boy Who Fell Into Pipe System

Hand prints on a wall helped rescuers narrow down the search area after a 13-year-old boy fell into a Los Angeles sewer at Griffith Park

Images on a feed from a closed-circuit camera inside a sewer pipe offered a glimmer of hope early Monday for teams searching for a 13-year-old boy who fell into an underground pipe more than 12 hours earlier.

The video from a camera floating inside the Los Angeles sewer system appeared to show hand prints. Sanitation crew members were immediately sent to the location near the 134 Freeway, about a mile from the site near Travel Town in Griffith Park where 13-year-old Jesse Hernandez fell into a drainage pipe during an Easter Sunday family celebration.

"About 4 a.m. we were able to see on one of the video cameras some hand markings on the sewer itself, inside where it appears that he was trying to get out," said LA Sanitation Department Assistant Director Adel Hagekhalil. "Right away, our team focused on that location."

The camera was one of two floating along a 6,400-foot section of pipe identified by the sanitation department as Jesse's most likely location. The wall markings it showed help narrow that search area and turn a night of desperation into a morning of elation.

Sanitation workers opened a maintenance hatch and saw Jesse about 11 feet down in the pipe in cold, dark and wet conditions.

"The first thing they heard is, 'Help!'" Hagekhalil said. "They were thrilled."

Workers lowered a hose to pull the boy to safety. He was hospitalized in serious condition, but talking with rescuers.

"I've never seen so many big, burly men so happy," said fire Capt. Erik Scott. "They were holding back tears, hugging each other. It's a miracle."

Hagekhalil said it's likely sewage was flowing at the time. The boy probably slipped all the way to the location where he was discovered and held on. The pipes are four feet in diameter with varying depths of water moving at approximately 15 mph.

"There were markings upstream that showed he was trying to hold himself up as he was traveling down," Hagekhalil added. 

Hernandez was jumping on a wooden plank atop a concrete building Sunday when the plank gave out underneath him, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The area, a decommissioned LA city sanitation facility, was fenced off, authorities said. 

Jesse then fell into a drainage pipe, which was full of low-flow running water and sewage. The pipe system feeds down to the Los Angeles River and due to water and gasses in the system, the environment would be difficult for one to breathe, officials said. 

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